Mark 6: On the job training


The feverish pace of action continues in Mark 6 as Jesus returns to his hometown to be rejected by the people there, dispatches his apostles on their first preaching tour, recounts the death of John the Baptist, feeds 5,000 with five loaves and two fish, walks on water, and heals the masses in Gennesaret, all in the span of 56 verses. To be honest, I’m a little short of breath just from typing all that.

With so much going on in the chapter, it’s really rather difficult to pick out one or two thoughts to focus on. We could talk about how it’s always difficult to minister to friends and family because they know that you’re “that kid.” We could examine the power of peer pressure to influence even powerful kings. We could discuss about how Jesus managed to make a very little bit of supply go far enough to satisfy even the greatest of needs, ponder how it was that the disciples still didn’t understand about the loaves and retained hardened hearts after all they had seen and heard, or expound on how people will always be eager to have Jesus heal their most imminent need but not always their most important one.

I think, though, that I want to focus for the moment on the fact that Jesus sent the disciples out on their own in vss 6-13. Maybe it’s because I preached on it recently and it still resonates with me, or maybe it’s just because I so often find myself intimidated when sharing the good news, but the fact remains that I find this amazing. After spending maybe a year learning at Jesus’ feet, even before we learn that “they had not understood” and “their hearts were [still] hardened” in vs 52, Jesus looks to his disciples, whom he had called to be apostles, and sends them on a preaching tour of Galilee in teams of two.

Talk about throwing the poor guys into the deep end of the pool! Without so much as a minute of “evangelism training” which is so popular today, or even a crash-course  on the finer points of Christian theology, these twelve fishermen, tax collectors, and such, who hadn’t even connected the dots to figure out who Jesus was exactly, were tapped to go out and preach – that is, tell people in a convincing manner – to repent.

Either Jesus was smoking something whacky, or He knew something that we often forget.

Since I’m pretty sure the former isn’t the case, I would submit to you that the latter must be: Jesus knew something that we often forget. What was that something? Well, actually, I think it was a number of somethings, and I want you to pay attention to this because I think they’re actually very important.

You don’t need to be an expert to be an evangelist. These guys were fishermen and tax collectors. And yet, after maybe a year of hanging out with Jesus, we are told that they went out and preached in vs 12. Clearly, Jesus didn’t expect them to know everything. Nor did he expect them to be able to do everything. He simply expected them to tell people what they knew about the importance of repentance, a task for which they had been qualified since about the age of two. There was no advanced theological, oratorical, hermeneutical, homiletical, or any other -ical training required. They had simply to tell what they knew, and if they didn’t know it, they would just come back and ask.

You don’t need to be rich to minister effectively. Again, these were simple men from Galilee, largely regarded as “the sticks” of ancient Palestine. So far from being rich were they that, when it came time to pay the Roman taxes, Jesus told Peter to go and check the mouth of a fish for two measly coins they needed for the tax. Now, they are told to go with no bread, no bag, and no money in their belts, all of which someone of means would have immediately taken. And while they were to wear sandals on their journey, an extra tunic was out. These guys were ministering, essentially, with empty hands. They had no publicity budgets, no fancy lodging, no glitzy outreach events. They simply ministered, and yet they were effective.

Your don’t have to have a twelve-step plan. These guys didn’t have a Romans Road or Evangelism Explosion or any other fancy step-by-step program to lead people from sinner to saint. All that they had to talk about was repentance, pure and simple. Later, they would realize that it was by the blood of Jesus that sins are atoned for, propitiation made, justification secured and all those other ten-gallon theological terms, but for right now, the message was, “Repent!” In each community and with each person, I would guess it varied somewhat, but this always remained the bottom line: You must acknowledge that you have deliberately done things that weren’t quite right, ask forgiveness, and resolve from here on out to do only that which is exactly right. That’s it. That’s what it’s all about. End of story.

For best results, you must work as a team. Jesus sent out the disciples two by two. Having that partner there meant that they could pool their ideas, support each other, encourage one another. When one of them lost their voice or grew tired, the other was there to step in. When one didn’t know the answer, the other may. While one of them was preaching, the other could be healing the sick or casting out demons, etc. The importance of the team in ministry must not be underestimated because it cannot be overstated. None of us are perfect or complete. It’s a simple fact of life as a human being. We need others to complement our strengths and offset our weaknesses.

You must back up the message with ministry. No, you won’t see that word in here. But look at what we do see. They drove demons out of people and anointed the sick, healing them. These were definite needs that these people had, and the apostles worked to meet them. In some cases, they called on the power of God Almighty to do miraculous things, and I don’t think that’s beyond us. But I would also submit that this statement should probably be understood as “They [even] drove out many…” In other words, they did everything up to and including drive out demons and miraculously heal to meet these people’s needs. And that, my friends, is the very essence of ministry: meeting other people’s needs.

And finally, don’t be afraid to fail. Of the four verses of instruction that Jesus provided the disciples as they gathered their stuff to leave, the longest one was devoted exclusively to what to do if no one will welcome you or listen. That means that more than one-fourth of His instructions to them were the contingency plan. And what was that plan? “Shake the dust off your feed when you leave.” In other words, don’t hesitate to get up, keep going, and try again. There will be people who won’t want anything to do with our message or our ministry, as crazy as that may sound. We must not let that keep us from our jobs.

So there we have it. Jesus sent out a bunch of hicks knowing full well that they would face hardship and rejection, but with every confidence that they would yet be effective. You see, Jesus knew that quite often, the most effective type of training is that which you receive on the job. And so He knew that nothing He could teach them while they sat at His feet would be able to prepare them as well as if He just sent them out.

And if Jesus’ band of ragtag, misfit, hick disciples could be effective apostles even before they fully grasped who Jesus was or what He had come to do for them, there should be nothing stopping us. So let me say this simply and directly: You can be an effective witness for Jesus Christ. You don’t really need more evangelism training sitting around a table at church. You just have to get out there and get to work.


  • (2-3) At first, the people of Nazareth thought Jesus was pretty amazing until they realized who he was. Then, when they knew that he was “that kid,” he wasn’t nearly as impressive. In fact, the notion that this upstart kid would be telling them what to do was offensive to them.
  • (6) It is difficult to imagine Jesus as amazed by anything.
  • (6-13) The sending of the twelve is remarkable, in my book, for a couple of reasons. First, the disciples were still new to this. There was still an awful lot that they didn’t understand. Second, they weren’t sent with piles of resources to mount mass publicity campaigns. They weren’t even sent with a change of clothing. Yet we learn that they were tremendously effective, preaching that people should repent (this implies that at least some were convinced), driving out demons and healing sick people. Maybe experience and understanding aren’t nearly as important as we like to think they are when it comes to ministering effectively.
  • (14-29) The power of peer pressure is impressive. Herod had ordered John the Baptist executed “because of his oaths and his dinner guests,” and now he heard the rumor that Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead and believed it. Even kings are susceptible to peer pressure.
  • (30-31) The importance of solitude was very real to Jesus. He, too, tired of dealing with people, and he knew that he needed, from time to time, to retreat to a secluded place for some peace and quiet.
  • (32-34) Jesus’ personal need for solitude, though, was still outweighed by his love for the people. While there comes a time when we must take care of ourselves, we must recognize that there will be occasions where the best of plans don’t work out. In those instances, our priorities must still be godly: love God and neighbor.
  • (38) It seems inconceivable that such a large crowd would knowingly set out with so little food among them. Maybe they counted only the supplies the disciples themselves had. But then again, crowd hysteria can lead to some strange things, I guess. At any rate, this was an impossibly small amount of food for such a large crowd.
  • (42-43) Five loaves and two fish whole would not have taken up twelve of these baskets, which were probably a little larger than an average lunch box. But such is the power of Jesus, to multiply whatever we have, whether it be resources or energy or time, to make it more than adequate for the need.
  • (45-46) The feeding of the five thousand did not negate Jesus’ need for solitude. Immediately after this tremendous victory, Jesus still retreated to the mountainside to be alone.
  • (47-52) Mark omits the part about Peter stepping out on the water. Instead, he records the disciples’ reactions, explaining that, even still, they didn’t understand who Jesus was. They hadn’t figured out what had happened with the miraculous feeding earlier in the day because they were still locked into the paradigm that the messiah should be a regular man who would be a mighty king. Not the Son of God who would serve.
  • (53-56) Once again, we see that the people were eager to be healed, even if they didn’t yet understand the full ramifications of who Jesus was and what he was doing.

1 Response to “Mark 6: On the job training”

  1. 1 April 3, 2010 at 12:49 pm


    Excellent observations — i particularly like the “no-12-step” part. So much evangelism training seems to miss that.

    However, a four point outline is helpful at certain points. I recommend that people master at least one.

    I have found the following predicament when I do training all over the US.

    When I ask Christians in my workshops to tell me what is the gospel, they hyperventilate and stumble for words. It is the situation where “I know this stuff” does not equal being prepared to share.

    So I wrote a little article to help out:

    Talk about Jesus without freaking out.


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